SXSW 2017: summary of SXSW Conference keynote by Zane Lowe

By on Friday, 31st March 2017 at 11:00 am

Header photo courtesy of SXSW

Former BBC Radio 1 presenter Zane Lowe made radio history back in 2015 when he became Creative Director and Los Angeles anchor for Beats 1, Apple Music’s first free global radio station. His keynote speech on the Thursday morning of SXSW 2017 split its focus between Lowe’s own career in radio and his vision for the future of radio as a relevant medium for artists trying to share their music.

Lowe might well have been pre-destined to make radio history, as he explained near the beginning of his speech. His father, a journalist in Lowe’s native New Zealand, had set a fine example for him in that regard, as one of the founders of New Zealand’s first private commercial radio station. The pirate station Radio Hauraki, as it is still known, began its operation in 1966, broadcasting from a boat in international waters off the coast of New Zealand. In 1970, the New Zealand Broadcasting Authority broke its monopoly and allowed Radio Hauraki to operate on land, opening the door for privately owned radio in New Zealand.

Lowe’s mention of Radio Hauraki grabbed my interest straightaway, as I already knew the pirate radio station had been an early champion of New Zealand art-rock band Split Enz. I’m a card-carrying member of the Frenz of the Enz fan club, which covers associated New Zealand acts Split Enz and Crowded House, as well as solo efforts by bandmates and brothers Tim and Neil Finn. Without diverging too much from the point Lowe was trying to make, the idea of radio presenters having the freedom to play music they genuinely love on air was the grand idea behind Radio Hauraki, and it has been, quite naturally, a foundational tenet of Lowe’s career as well.

Zane Lowe internal

Lowe discussed his early career in New Zealand, inspired largely by brick-and-mortar record stores and his love of bands like the Beastie Boys and Nirvana, and his eventual move to the UK, where he worked for XFM and the BBC, as a way of putting the the volatile current state of radio into context. Despite the rapidly changing landscape of radio as a medium for sharing music, which we as music fans are all too aware of, Lowe made the salient point that the ultimate job of radio presenters and music journalists—providing an avenue for musicians to connect with their fans—has remained, and will remain, fundamentally constant.

He emphasised that as artists begin experimenting with new avenues of music promotion, radio will have to continue to adapt in order to stay relevant, and radio personalities will have to be prepared to take on new ventures, such as the one he himself has taken with Beats 1. “Fans [are becoming] followers, and followers [are becoming] data”, as Lowe observed, but he still stands by the innately human element of the music experience: the importance of collective listening, whether via live performances, online streams, or the ever-enduring radio broadcast.

If you’re interested in hearing Zane Lowe’s keynote speech from SXSW 2017 in its entirety, you can watch the livestream video just below, courtesy of SXSW.


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